Unspoken Rules

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Reduce Stress Caused by Unspoken Rules by:

  • Becoming aware of them
  • Looking at the thinking that accompanies your rules
  • Talking it over with others
  • Challenging the rules
  • Revisiting your rules
Reduce Stress by Recognizing Unspoken Rules

Experts in human behavior such as Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck have written extensively about unspoken rules in our lives. Here are some common unspoken rules for ourselves:
  • I must never make a mistake.

  • I must never fail.

  • I must never look foolish.

  • I must work very hard at all times.

  • I must never get angry.

  • I must always play it safe.
We also have a series of unspoken rules for other people: our expectations about how other people should behave toward us:

  • People should never disappointment me.

  • People should do what I ask.

  • People should be reasonable toward me.

  • People should not ask me to do what I don't want to do.

Reduce Stress Caused by Unspoken Rules

To reduce the stress caused by these unspoken rules, do the following:

  1. Become aware of them. Examine each stressful situation you experience, particular those involving unpleasant emotions like anger, anxiety, guilt, or depression, and get at the unspoken rules behind your reactions. Look for the "must's" and the "should's." Repeatedly ask yourself, "Why do I feel as I do in this situation?" or "What demands am I making on myself?" or "What demands am I making on others?"

  2. Look at the thinking that accompanies your rules. Help yourself gain perspective by noting the "all or nothing" thinking and the exaggeration that accompanies unspoken rules.

  3. Talk it over with others. Share your rules with them and get their reactions.

  4. Challenge the rules. Ask yourself: "Why must I think this way?" or "Who says that I must live up to this rule?" or "Why must I demand this of myself?" or "Why should other people do as I wish?"

  5. Revise your rules. Substitute a more reasonable, less harsh rule for the one you are now following. For example, suppose your rule is: "I must always do my best." Behind that rule is usually the other one: "It would be terrible not to do my best." Make a more reasonable rule, such as, "I prefer to do my best and feel better when I do my best, but it is okay to be human. It isn't terrible when I fall short of my goal."



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